Ekern Makes the Tough Decisions at VDOT

David Ekern, the Virginia Department of Transportation Comissioner, has kept a lower profile than his predecessor Philip Shucet, but he seems to be a capable, even impressive, administrator in his own way. He has been thinking hard about how to maximize Virginia’s road/highway revenues in an era where revenues are stagnant and costs, especially for materials, are rising.

A VDOT employee has passed along an e-mail communication to much (or all) of the VDOT workforce in which Ekern lays out “what I believe about our future and the challenges we are facing.” In a logical and dispassionate fashion, he makes the case for focusing on the “basics” and the “have-to-haves,” such as maintenance of pavement and bridges, over desirables such as mowing and hedge trimming. Ekern also talks about targeting 18,000 to 20,000 miles of roads that bear the most traffic, and consolidating VDOT’s organizational structure.

Sounds like Ekern is the kind of guy you want on the team when you’re managing for hard times. Given the parlous condition of the economy and state finances right now, we’ll be facing hard times for a long time to come. His communication follows:

Over the last week you have likely heard Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer say that every part of our business must be “on the table” as we face changing economic conditions. You have read in my previous correspondence that no part of VDOT “will be untouched by the actions we must take” in order to manage the huge shift in transportation funding we are experiencing.

Over the last seven days, I have had the opportunity to visit with over 500 of you from all over the state to hear your concerns, gather your ideas and listen to your questions. I will meet with more of you in the coming weeks. This helps me to develop plans to address these difficult times.

I want to share what I believe about our future and the challenges we are facing. More.

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5 responses to “Ekern Makes the Tough Decisions at VDOT”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “targeting 18,000 to 20,000 miles of roads that bear the most traffic,”

    GO NOVA.


  2. Sounds like transportation is another victim of the top-down trickle-up “free market” that devalues all public goods by trying to capitalize them. A New Urban Region could look at ways to innovate on paving (for instance) and spend those dollars more effectively.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    I have a feeling that this recession will do more to reduce the need for transportation funds than any action VDOT undertakes. The spotlight in Virginia is going to quickly move from gridlock to deficits.

  4. Larry G Avatar

    rightly or wrongly – at least for now, Mr. Ekern enjoys a reputation as a straight-shooter by folks involved in transportation issues in the Fredericksburg Area.

    Mr. Schucet was working to shore up the reputation of VDOT whereas Mr. Ekern will have to assure fundamental changes in the way they do business in an era of much tighter money with little promise of more money in the short term.

    So.. he’s describing an agency in transition from a premier builder of roads to one that will primarily be maintaining existing roads and trying to optimize their operation.

    A couple of areas where such changes can be seen.. coming down the pike… metaphorically:

    Access management – the closing of median crossovers and more encouragement of intra-parcel connections rather than new curb-cuts.

    More comprehensive and detailed reviews of major projects like the one they did in Loudoun which discloses to the public – the extent and cost of infrastructure required to serve new development – and the clear statement that VDOT will not cough up the funds to pay for it.

    In the past, as demonstrated by the leaders in Loudoun – they much preferred that no analysis be performed .. much less that the public get the truth about cost and who pays….

    I predict that this new policy will do more to put a bright light on development costs than any other past policies and will go a long, long way towards keeping local governments more honest with respect to their lusting after new development.

    Finally, the budget reality is that the current flow of money is barely adequate to pay for the maintenance of existing roads with virtually nothing available for new roads.

    Little likelihood that new taxes will be the remedy here and a high likelihood that any new roads that are said to be “urgently needed” will be candidates as toll roads…


    VDOT maintains the 3rd largest road system in the country and actually enjoys a pretty good reputation already – as compared to the likes of Georgia or Pennsylvania.. so worse things could happen…

    good luck to Mr. Ekern.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I too was impressed with the candor and understanding of his job shown by Mr. Ekern. Sometimes the budget given is small — and we need to do our best.

    But if things are this tight, why are Dulles Toll Road users paying for rail to Dulles with the Tysons detour? Why are our elected officials defending the no-bid contract for Dulles Rail with Bechtel & its partner?

    I'd like the see the next Governor announce that we are through spending money on transportation projects that are determined by who has the best lobbyist. Won't happen, but I can dream.

    We always have money for earmarks. Why can't we spend the money on these basic projects — intersection improvements, safety improvements, etc.?


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